A Year of Good Money: Stop Eating Out

I started this blog in 2017 (okay, technically it was the end of 2016) as a three-year experiment. I planned to spend 2017, 2018, and 2019 with a very focused goal in mind–to double our net worth and become location independent. In an absolutely shocking turn of events, our family became location independent last year, mid-way through the experiment.

Our location independence looks a little different than I envisioned, but it’s been a great decision for our family. We live in one place, in an idyllic small town in North Carolina just north of Charlotte. Mr. ThreeYear and I both work remotely. Our kids attend the great public schools here, and we travel as much as we can during breaks and summer. Most importantly, we are close to our family and the weather is a lot warmer.

Now that we’ve reached one goal (and it was, truly, the main goal), where does that leave us in 2019? Of course, we still have to double our net worth, and unfortunately we have almost 50% more to go, due to losing equity in our house and a market downturn at the end of last year.

But, because we know that we’ll eventually reach that goal, and it’s not quite as pressing now as it was when we thought we’d be leaving our jobs for several years, what should be our focus in 2019?

Each year of the experiment, I’ve picked a theme, a “word of the year,” before it was a thing.

In 2017, I picked one new habit each month to get better at, so we could improve our productivity with investing and earning.

In 2018, I focused on spending 20% less, each and every month, at the grocery store, so we could save more.

Week 5 Aldi www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Last year, I reported on our monthly buying habits at the grocery store.

In 2019, I thought about a lot of behaviors we could focus on. We want better relationships, better health. But we still struggle with over-spending, too. And our spending experiments have worked pretty well to change our behavior.

So 2019 is the year for money experiments.

Each month, we’ll perform a different money experiment to see how we do.

Continue reading “A Year of Good Money: Stop Eating Out”

5 Money Moves We’re Making Before the End of the Year

It’s still hard to believe that almost another entire year has passed. As I was looking through my posts, I saw one I’d written last year about this time, and I thought it would be great to share again. 

Our family's money moves to close out this year and get ready for next! @lauriethreeyear #personalfinance #familymoney #cfomom

The funny thing is, our money moves this year are almost exactly the same as last year’s. We’re creatures of habit, for sure! 

The biggest difference between this year’s end-of-the-year money moves and last year’s is that last December, we paid off all non-mortgage debt so this year, we have nothing to pay off. It feels amazing, and has felt amazing since we did it last December. We feel so much more in control of our finances this year, in large part because we keep more of our money and are able to save and invest more. 

I’d love to hear your end-of-the-year money moves! Let me know in the comments!

While we’re still over a month-and-a-half from the end of the year, we know that soon, December 31st will be upon us, so the ThreeYears are currently working on end-of-the-year money moves to make sure our finances are in good shape.

Here’s what we’re doing to close this year out:

1. Contribute as much as possible to my i401k

Since I’m self-employed, I have an i401k (if you’re interested in the particulars of opening one, read this post). I am playing catch-up with my contributions since we had so many cash goals that we funded with my income this year. So, in the final quarter of the year, and in the first quarter of next year (or at least until we file our taxes), I’ll be contributing a lot to my 401K. Even though the market is high now, I don’t want to miss the tax contributions of these contributions. I estimate we’ll save several thousand dollars on our taxes if I reach my contribution goal for the year.

2. Fulfill our outstanding financial obligations

We’ve got a few outstanding financial obligations, including completing our yearly pledge with our church. We usually wait and pay the majority of our pledge in the fourth quarter of the year, when our cash flow’s better (as a teacher, I don’t get paid in the summer and it takes a month or so after school starts to begin getting paid, so our income rises in October, November, and December).

I also have to pay my fourth quarter taxes for income earned from September through December. I have until January 16th, 2018, to file the taxes, but I’ll probably go ahead and pay what I estimate I’ll owe before the end of the year. I set aside 20% of my income as it comes in, in my business account, so that money is ready to send in anytime I decide to pay the bill. Continue reading “5 Money Moves We’re Making Before the End of the Year”

The Power of Waiting

There are few things in life I hate as much as waiting. I remember my grandmother reciting the lines to one of her favorite poems when I was little, as I jumped from one foot to the other, hurrying her along in my mind.

“If a string is in a knot,
Patience will untie it.
Patience can do many things—
Did you ever try it?

If it was sold at any shop
I should like to buy it.
But you and I must find our own—
No other can supply it.”

My grandmother is a fairly patient woman. More importantly, she understands the power of patience. She is one half of the frugal dynamo comprising my maternal grandparents.

Leon

A little background, if you will. My mom’s parents were born at the end of the 1920s and beginning of the 1930s and were Depression Babies. My grandfather Leon, especially, grew up in the middle of the tobacco fields and sharecroppers of central North Carolina. When he was a little boy, about Little ThreeYear’s age, his dad left, leaving my grandmother alone with two small children. My grandfather had to work in those same sharecropping fields, picking cotton and beans to make money so his mama and sister could eat. They’d trap rabbits for the occasional meat to add to their meals. They were so poor that food was a constant concern. Continue reading “The Power of Waiting”

We Got a 15-Year Mortgage. Here’s Why You Should, Too.

I am a big fan of fifteen-year mortgages. When we bought our first property in Chile, we actually took out a fifteen-year mortgage, and then paid it off a year-and-a-half early last December. But for some reason (money), we did not take out a fifteen-year mortgage with our first house in Atlanta. We did the slick 5% down, 30-year on that house, and lost our shirts with that deal when it was time to sell (well, technically, just our down payment, 4 years’ equity, and $20,000).

Why is a fifteen-year mortgage so great? We can argue all day about paying down debt versus investing (which I’ve done here) and the math behind it. But the truth is, a fifteen-year mortgage only increases your monthly mortgage payment by a little bit and helps you build up equity so much faster than a thirty-year mortgage. Yes, you can take out a thirty-year mortgage and pay it off early. But the beauty of a fifteen-year mortgage is that in fifteen years, it’s paid off, guaranteed. My girl Chief Mom Officer wrote a great post about the same topic with her actual mortgage numbers that I encourage you to read.  Continue reading “We Got a 15-Year Mortgage. Here’s Why You Should, Too.”

How to Save Money When You’re Not a Saver

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more info, please read my disclosure at the bottom of this page).

Raise your hand if you’re a saver. You know, you never spend money. You’re biologically opposed to pulling out your wallet. You’ve got thousands squirreled away in a savings account somewhere, and you’ve built it up almost without thinking about it.

I bet you grew up in a frugal family, right? Did your mom always pack sandwiches when you went on road trips? Did you rarely, if ever, go out to eat? When you did, the whole family ordered waters and split entrees. Am I close? Did you live in a modest ranch your whole life, wear hand-me-downs, and ride in the same car for a decade (that your parents paid cash for)?

I’m not making fun. No way. I’m actually a little jealous. Here’s why: you had the best possible education growing up. Your frugal family taught you how, almost without thinking about it, to spend less than you earn. You feel trepidation–a healthy fear–towards buying stuff, and you instinctively pause before buying a material item, and think about whether you actually need it or not. Continue reading “How to Save Money When You’re Not a Saver”

June Net Worth Update

Hi! I missed you last week. First, we had a joint work conference for Mr. ThreeYear, then we spent one day loading the moving truck, then one day cleaning the house, two days traveling from New Hampshire to North Carolina, and one day prepping for our close. By the time you’re reading this, we’ll be homeowners once again, this time in North Carolina.

I wanted to blog so much but it wasn’t happening.

I’ve never been so tired. Maybe after having the kids. Definitely after having the kids. But man, this is a close second. Moving is hard. Of course, we know it will be amazing once we get moved in and settled down, but for now, not knowing where my pjs are, or Mr. ThreeYear’s iPad, or pretty much anything, is disconcerting. Throw a mandatory joint work conference, an 8-year-old birthday party, and a graduate class with tons of work into the mix, and I was fried.

Also, yesterday, my sister thought she’d speed up my transition into North Carolina living, by taking me to a yoga class on someone’s back porch in 88 degree weather. Ten minutes into class, there was a puddle of sweat on my mat. And I think (ok, I know!) I belong in the beginner yoga class. These ladies were popping up into headstands on a dime. It’s a really good thing there’s no picture of that.

If you’re just joining, our family of four is on a three-year journey to double our net worth and become location independent. Since we’ve achieved the latter goal, we’ll be primarily focused on the former in each of these reports going forward. Each month, I record our progress on our net worth and our spending. Last year, we increased our net worth by 32% over the year before. This year, we’re trying to increase it by more than 65% from where we started in December 2016. Given the wild ride the market’s likely to take us on this year, I’m not sure it’s doable. But we’re going to try.

This month’s net worth report will be a little strange. It will take into account the (massive) loss of equity in our net worth from the move. We paid for realtors’ fees, closing costs, repairs, the move itself, attorneys’ fees, hotel stays, eating out, and the other myriad costs to move. Was it worth it? 100%! We’re living our dream of location independence (very firmly in one location, but hey, that’s what we want). It is a little hard to write down in black and white, though. Continue reading “June Net Worth Update”

Does Where You Live Affect How Much You Save?

Bankrate recently reported that Americans are saving less, despite low unemployment and rising wages. And it turns out that some regions of the country are not as good at saving. On Wednesday, I wrote about the best places to live in the US. But could where you live impact your ability to reach FI, even subtly? Does where you live really impact how much you can save?

How Much Do You Really Need?

We’re talking about emergency savings. The article makes the oft-repeated claim that you should have six months’ savings in an emergency fund. First of all, let’s think about that claim: who makes it, and who stands to profit from it? Keeping a lot of money tied up in a checking or savings account helps banks because they then have more money to lend out (they must have 10% of the money they lend on hand). But do you really need six months of savings? Continue reading “Does Where You Live Affect How Much You Save?”

How to Outsmart Your Mental Accounting to Save More

Have you ever gotten an unexpected check in the mail or a big tax refund, and your first impulse is to go spend it on something amazing that you wouldn’t normally buy yourself, like a lavish dinner? Me too. Why do we do that and how do we make better choices with these “bonus” windfalls?

I know that money is fungible, that I can use any part of my money on any one of my expenses, even though I have different mental buckets for my money. So rationally, I would add those bonus windfalls to my biggest goal of the moment, doubling my net worth. But that’s not always how it works.

We use mental accounting, or dividing our money up into “mental buckets,” for a lot of reasons. It’s a lot easier to think “I have $700 to spend on groceries this month” than to pull it out of one big account. That’s too confusing and I might spend too much without those mental buckets in place to help me categorize things. If we get extra money that falls outside of those buckets, then it does feel like extra, and shouldn’t have to be spent according to the same rules. Continue reading “How to Outsmart Your Mental Accounting to Save More”

8 Ways to Save Money on Summer Camps

The countdown is on. School will be out for the ThreeYears in 4 weeks, exactly (not that we’re counting or anything). Soon, summer will be upon us.

8 Ways to Save Money on Summer Camps www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

For our family, summer is a time to be together and visit family, since I’m a teacher and am off during the summers. However, when I worked during the summer, camp planning was a big preoccupation this time of year. The massive expense of camp was a big concern, because I needed a safe, fun place for my kids to spend their days during the summer weekdays. But camps are pricey. Here are some ideas for ways to decrease the cost of camps for your kids this summer.

Research “hidden gems”

Three years ago, a friend told me about a camp in a neighboring town. It was a one-week day camp held at the local airport, and it was completely free! The kids who attended were able to fly with local pilots and learn the basics of aviation, at no cost. The camp was started as an initiative for this lower-income community, but anyone could participate. In subsequent years, they increased the cost to $40 for the week, still an incredible deal for a camp that takes kids flying.

The camp wasn’t well publicized and I only heard about it through several friends who lived in the community. We put it on our list for this summer as this is the first year both boys would be able to participate.

There are lots of day camp opportunities available for little or no cost, but they’re not always easy to find. Sometimes, they’re advertised in local newspapers, on town websites, or other out-of-the-way places. I let friends know that I’m looking for interesting, low-cost opportunities for my kids so they’ll pass on any info. Continue reading “8 Ways to Save Money on Summer Camps”

April Net Worth Update

Happy May! How are things going for you? We finally have no snow on the ground as of yesterday, and that is not an exaggeration. Winter definitely held on as long as it’s ever held on this year, which is my eighth winter in New Hampshire. For the past seven winters, we’ve had all snow melted by April 23rd (even if we’ve gotten a freak snow storm in May afterwards) but this year, we had snow cover for a whole extra week (lucky us!).

We did get some beautiful 70-degree days at the tail end of this month, which made everything feel hopeful and Springy. Our crocuses have bloomed (all 2 of them) and our daffodils are pushing up, as well as our alliums and the dahlias. We spent this month doing a variety of activities, some of which I’ll be revealing down the road (hint hint!). It’s been a busy month. Over Spring Break, Mr. ThreeYear and I took a fun trip to Portland, Oregon, while my mom flew up from sunny South Carolina to watch the boys. She had horrible snowy, icy, weather, so we appreciate her sacrifice even more!

If you’re just joining, our family of four is on a three-year journey to double our net worth and become location independent. Each month, I record our progress on our net worth and our spending. Last year, we increased our net worth by 32% over the year before. This year, we’re trying to increase it by more than 65% from where we started in December 2016. Given the wild ride the market’s likely to take us on this year, I’m not sure it’s doable. But we’re going to try.

Last month, even though we enjoyed more lackluster results from the stock market, we got a huge jump in net worth since Mr. ThreeYear’s annual stock gift was given out. Each December, his privately-owned company, which is 100% employee-owned, invites outside auditors to set the stock price. Given the wild surge the stock prices took in December, his company’s stock was given a much higher valuation than the year before. That meant all of the stock we currently hold in the company rose substantially, and we received more stock (valued at more money).

Continue reading “April Net Worth Update”